There are going to be some hard decisions that must be made for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this NFL off-season. Their salary cap situation is going to necessitate that there be some veterans who do not return to this team in 2013. When a player who is entrenched with a team and have had success with a team, it’s always a mystery as to how those new pieces will fit in the puzzle. As I pour over the roster, there are really three players who look to be starters in 2013 who are really going to need to step up their games if this team is to be successful next season.
Antonio Brown, wide receiver-It looks very likely that wide receiver Mike Wallace will not be re-signed and if he isn’t, Brown is going to be WR1 in this offense. This will be an interesting move, especially in this new Steelers offense. If you compare his 2011 and 2012, there is something that really stands out. His number of targets per game actually went up in 2012, by a margin of .3 per game, and with that slightly more catches per game, .6 per game, but his yards per game went down by 9 and yards per catch down by 4. If the Steelers get 2011 Brown, I can see him as a true No. 1, but in offensive coordinator Todd Haley‘s offense he’s more of a glorified No. 2 and this team needs a clear No.1 target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Ziggy Hood, defensive end-It’s time for Hood, a former first-round draft pick entering into his 5th season, to take that next step. Hood was drafted to replace former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith, who was so good for so long for the Steelers. But the role of the 3-4 defensive end has expanded as this past season we saw what I hope was a preview of what Hood is capable of. If he can continue to get better as a pass rusher, it would give defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau so many more options for blitz schemes and rush packages. Defensive end Brett Keisel and defensive tackle Casey Hampton are both on the downside of their careers, so the top returner is Hood and he needs to play like it.
Marcus Gilbert, offensive tackle-Gilbert had his season cut short this year with an ankle injury, which really threw off the entire offensive line. My prediction is that offensive tackle Max Starks will not be brought back and assuming he’s healthy Gilbert is going to the be starting left tackle on opening weekend of the 2013 NFL season. The most important spot on this line is the guy who’s going to be protecting the blindside of Roethlisberger, so it goes without saying that assuming Gilbert is the man next year on the left, how he plays will have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2013 season.
There are my big 3, but tell me who are yours. Come follow me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and let me know who you think has to step up this season.